Putting money in an offering plate is a traditional way to support religious institutions and it can also save you money on your tax return. The Internal Revenue Service lets you subtract or deduct certain expenses from your taxable income, including donations to nonprofit organizations that do charitable work. Church offerings are considered a type of tax-deductible charitable contribution.
Charitable Contribution Basics
Donations of cash or property are tax deductible if you make them to a qualifying charity. The IRS says that qualifying charities include religious organizations, so offerings made to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions qualify as tax deductions. Other qualifying charities include nonprofit companies created for charitable, scientific, literary or educational purposes. Donations to organizations founded to prevent cruelty to children and animals are also deductible.
Church offerings and other charitable contributions are considered a type of "itemized deduction," and therefore you can deduct these only if you choose to itemize. According to the IRS, the standard deduction is $11,900 for married couples filing a joint return for the 2012 tax year and $5,950 for singles and married people filing separate returns. If the sum of your church offerings and other itemized deductions is lower than your standard deduction, you are better off taking the standard deduction.
While offerings usually take the form of cash or checks, it is possible to donate property to churches and other charities. When you give property to a charity, you can take a tax deduction up the fair market value of the property. Fair market value is the amount that the property would fetch if sold at current market prices. For example, if you donate shares of stock, the fair market value is the current stock price.
Contributions That Benefit You
In some cases, donations you make to a church or other charity may include some kind of tangible benefit, like a meal, trip or property. When you receive a benefit as a result of a donation, you can only take a deduction for the amount by which the donation exceeds the value of the benefit. For instance, if you pay $100 for a charity dinner and you receive a meal that has a fair market value of $30, you can only deduct $70 of the $100 cost of the dinner.
Gregory Hamel has been a writer since September 2008 and has also authored three novels. He has a Bachelor of Arts in economics from St. Olaf College. Hamel maintains a blog focused on massive open online courses and computer programming.